The Kennesaw State men’s basketball team traveled to Alico Arena and fell 68-63 on Saturday night at Florida Gulf Coast.
It was the second game of a three-game road finale for the Owls (10-19, 6-7), and it came in a hostile environment in Fort Myers.
The game began very sloppy for both teams with 10 combined turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game — six coming from KSU. Both teams struggled to find the basket early on as well, with the first field goal coming four minutes into the game. It was made by FGCU forward Marc-Eddy Norelia, giving the Eagles a 5-1 lead. He finished the game with 22 points and seven rebounds.
“At the start of the game we didn’t handle the ball very well and we had a lot of turnovers,” KSU head coach Al Skinner said. “We were anxious and impatient.”
The poor handling of the ball and bad shooting continued for KSU throughout the first half, as a bad pass was followed by a three-pointer by Eagles guard Christian Terrell, giving his team a 19-13 lead with 7:00 remaining in the half. KSU forward Nigel Pruitt broke the cold streak for the Owls on the very next possession with a deep three-pointer of his own.
Moments later KSU tied the game with a Aubrey Williams layup. Pruitt blocked a Norelia shot on the next possession and found KSU guard Yonel Brown in the corner for his first three-pointer of the game, giving the Owls a 23-20 lead.
The half ended like the game started, with multiple turnovers and questionable shot selection by both teams. KSU led 29-26 at halftime, mostly due to its’ strong bench play. The Owls’ bench outscored FGCU’s bench 13-0 in the first half.
“They are getting their minutes and everybody is understanding what we’re trying to do,” Skinner said about the team’s bench play. “The ball is moving and the effort is there, so everybody knows that we need each other to be successful and that’s the most important thing.”
The second half began and Brown continued to struggle finding his shot. He finished the game with 11 points, but shot 1-9 from beyond-the-arc and 2-14 overall.
Kendrick Ray, along with the bench, were the bright spots offensively for the Owls. He took over the game in the second half and kept it close throughout.
FGCU retook the lead 44-39 after multiple steals leading to free throws, but Ray battled back with a circus layup, cutting the Eagles lead to 44-42 with 11:13 to play.
FGCU continued to pound the ball into the post and used its’ size to its’ advantage, drawing foul after foul. The Eagles shot 35 free throws for the game and made more (23) than KSU attempted (21).
“There was a huge discrepancy in free throws,” Skinner said. “They made more free throws than we took and that’s a formula to lose on the road. So to be as close as we were (throughout the game), it’s really a credit to our effort.”
The game went back-and-forth for seven consecutive minutes, with each team trading turnovers and baskets. Ray scored his 20th point off of a fadeaway to give the Owls their last lead of the game, 54-53, with 6:04 left in the game. He finished with a game-high 25 points, but was 0-4 from three-point range.
The game came down to the final seconds, with FGCU missing a free throw. KSU grabbed the rebound, dribbled the ball down the court, and called timeout with 5.7 seconds remaining to draw up a final play. They trailed 66-63 with 5.7 seconds left. The final play was a screen and roll to Ray, who missed the desperation three, and the Owls went on to lose by five points.
The loss was the 10th consecutive to FGCU and snapped the Owls’ three-game winning streak, dropping them to sixth place in the conference. KSU has one game remaining on its’ regular season schedule at Lipscomb on Thursday. A loss won’t hurt the Owls in the standings, but a win will earn them the fifth seed in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.